Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gary's start in business politics

Dear Gary,

How did you become interested in business politics?

HM, Seattle

GARY’S ANSWER: Great question! It started with my own experience, as often is the case. We’re interested in things because of our own experiences or those of someone close to us. In my case, I had trained for a career in internationally oriented management. I had worked and lived in a number of locations and different parts of the world. And as a manager, I happened to have come into a couple of positions while I was managing that were highly politicized. I came in and I saw my job as being in charge of an operation and yet that wasn’t how I had to spend my time. I came to realize that a significant amount of time was spent defending myself against sabotage; against other people’s agendas and that there were people who actively wanted my job.

It began to occur to me that this is really inefficient. I did all these things to try to train to be a good manger, now I’ve got a position where I really can show who I am, and yet I have to spend 50% of my time on politics? But, I recognized if I didn’t do it, somebody would perhaps be so successful that I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I maybe wouldn’t even have my job. I think a lot of time and effort is wasted in organizations managing corporate politics. Many organizations have some form of corporate politics. My own experience and position, I think, was a little bit more politicized than average, and thus, I think I was exposed to more of it that others may have. And became more sensitized earlier.

I believe I came into management with a natural ability, like some people may have ability in art and other people have an ability to drive race cars, I believe that I have a natural ability and instinctual understanding of the political environment around me. For example, we all have cell phones and other wireless devices surrounding us, communicating with each other on a constant basis. These invisible waves of communication are coming from a variety of different sources and directions. Similarly with people and individuals in organizations, there are countless “waves,” agendas between people, surrounding us, hidden from plain view, that make organizational politics. We all know they’re there if we think about it.

I think I have an ability, an intuition, to somehow understand these different “waves” of agendas. I’m able to sense not just the fact that they’re there, but actually begin to think about how they interrelate and whether they are in conflict with one another.

And so, I came to a point while managing in Hallmark Cards - Europe, when I realized I had my own agenda, in addition to those around me. I began to question how does my agenda, in other words, what I’m trying to achieve, relate to all these other things that are going on, emanating from all these other people. I was able to design a strategy for myself, just sort of intuitively, on handling and managing the politics in my own workplace. And it worked well for me. I was able to succeed and also mostly defend myself against the agendas of others. I could understand what people were trying to achieve, what their agendas were and maybe help some of them. So as I grew in responsibility, I had this other talent that I was able to use and as I managed many different locations and situations, it became a really valuable extra thing. It became my own private ace up my sleeve.



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